Ramsbottom 5 (Lightowler 3, Moir 2, Jackson 0)
Flixton 4 (Rosenthal 2, Cicchelli 1, Biggs 1)
Is there a different kind of pressure on a night like this? I ask the question to Ramsbottom’s 100% man, Michael Moir or ‘Mick’ as he calls himself when struggling, when bludgeoned by a force he’s not used to. He hesitates a little. “No. Not really.”
I push for more – ask if it still matters…mention the fierce Glasgow-like rivalry between Ramsbottom and Flixton and wonder where it sits in the wider Moir perspective. “Yes. You wanna win…I’ve only done the British League [remember].”
They are the words of a man either playing down his fine achievements in this sport or enunciation constrained by potentially ribbing teammates. Through the now familiar and strikingly-bristled face, Moir keeps his expression tight, clipped – the opposite of his rangy play.
Ramsbottom need only three points this evening to make it insurmountable for Flixton; three points to regain the title so mercilessly taken from them on 4 April 2013. On that night, Moir produced his usual treble but his team was overwhelmed by Louis Rosenthal, John Hilton and Paul Cicchelli.
The personnel are similar now: Moir, Richard Lightowler (100%) and Andrew Jackson (88%) – Mark Ramsbottom watching – versus Rosenthal (100%), Cicchelli (93%) and Phil Biggs (88%); Hilton -1980 European Champion – never seen in these parts, like a convict fleeing the Crown.
Cicchelli, thrown in first, moans to his captain, Biggs: “I’m still on the motorway. I don’t need to go on first!” Biggs is insistent though – calming his player, trying to talk him round. Waiting in the wings is Moir, just keen to get started, keen to show his dominance and fluidity. 11-3,11-3. Cicchelli’s rage heightens: “Got no touch!”
He is a man being bossed by Moir, a man whose job has largely taken over his life; too many motorway miles, too many – by his own admittance – KFC Fiery Bites. You feel like throwing him an iceberg lettuce – something to stem the abysmal form. Because on his day, Cicchelli has the most elegant chop in the game – it has a ‘baby rocking’ motion to it, a perfectly aligned forearm.
6-4 in the third. Moir appears to be coasting, but then Cicchelli finds his gear. In amongst the heavy breathing, the overuse of his white towel and the reddened face, he clutches at something which transforms his play. 6-9: five straight points. 8-9: Moir is not easily felled. 9-11: Cicchelli is back in it.
Moir begins to tighten up. At 2-3 a couple of shots hit the top of the net and then drop back onto his side. 2-5: Cicchelli pulls away. 6-11: We have a five-setter.
Biggs moves in for a tete-a-tete, a final set briefing. Lightowler does the same with Moir. The words from Cicchelli are still damning despite his comeback: “Can’t believe…playing this *&^$ and still in it.”
If Moir is unsettled, disconcerted by the Cicchelli Jekyll and Hide act, then it doesn’t show. The impeccable Adidas attire (blue top / black shorts / white socks) has the effect of veiling his sweat, disguising how spent he really is.
They make their way to the table. Cicchelli serves. It is a beauty – deep left. Moir twitches. He refuses to lie down (that will come later versus Rosenthal). 2-1: his crumbling game momentarily stops. 3-3: a fierce diagonal backhand from Cicchelli. 5-3: net and in from Moir. It is the heartache point which Cicchelli cannot come back from. 11-4: Moir is respectful but pleased.
Ramsbottom sail away.